Pause for Thought – a five minute read – Week 34

Revelation 3 v 20 – 22

Someone’s Knocking at the Door

After revealing my mother’s infatuation with superstitions in a previous reflection, I now have to admit in indulging in a tradition that has been marinated in superstition for centuries.

Although I have, to the best of my knowledge, no connections with the highlands of Scotland, in fact I can recall only one brief venture over the northern most border on a tourist trip with Jean to Gretna Green, I have, for as long as I can remember celebrated Hogmanay.

This celebration which dates back to pre-Viking days is observed with great vigour in households across Scotland at New Year.

The revelry can last a week and involve such activities as, launching balls of burning straw into the air, burning replica Viking Long Ships , chasing an unfortunate volunteer dressed in an animal skin down the street while beating them with a stick, consuming large amounts of Whiskey and partaking in the first footing ceremony.

It may, or may not, come as a surprise to learn that my involvement in Hogmanay is a very sober variation of the first footing element of the celebration both as a lad and as a responsible adult. For over fifty years Jean and I have celebrated Hogmanay with friends in York, (with the exception of this year).

We always revel in good food and competitive games of Scrabble and Mahjong from where we are led into the lilting voice of Andy Stewart singing, ‘Donald where’s your trousers’,   and other Scottish masterpieces.

At the stroke of midnight the ‘First Footing’ ceremony is initiated.

First Footing is an essential element of the old year climax and the New Year welcome. Unless the ceremony is fulfilled precisely then who knows what bad luck will befall onto the New Year.

You can imagine how my mum would react to that.

First of all, before the midnight hour, someone has to go outside the house. This someone must be male, preferably tall, and dark haired. They must carry with them, a piece of coal, a pinch of salt, a piece of Christmas cake, (other types of fruit cake are available), a silver coin and a dram of Whiskey, (or in our case Tonic Water or Shloer).

When the clock strikes twelve, the first footer is permitted to cross the threshold and re-enter the house bringing their gifts with them. They can then kiss the ladies and shake hands with the gentlemen before joining hands and singing,’ Auld Lang Syne’.  The revelry can then continue until retiring to bed at an earlier time than last year.

The first footing always reminds me of the Bible, Revelations 3 v 20 – 24, along with a painting by the pre-Raphaelite artist William Holman Hunt. The painting shows the figure of Jesus Christ holding a lantern and knocking on a closed door.

The door is overgrown and obviously has not been opened for many years. It has no handle on the outside so can only be opened from within.

The picture and the scripture represents each one of us, having Jesus Christ knocking on the door of our lives wishing to come in, but not all will open the door. Despite no response he never gives up and keeps knocking, asking for the door to be opened and his crossing the threshold into our lives. He brings with him not a piece of coal, or a piece of cake, or a silver coin, but light and peace and hope and love.

Jesus will not force his way in, he will not impose himself on the unresponsive. There is no handle on the outside to enable him to open it by himself. He must be invited from within. Verse 22 says, ‘If you have ears then listen to what the spirit says’.

Let Jesus be the first footer over the threshold of your lives, respond to the knocking and open the door, allow him in and let him reside in your heart for all time.   

First Footing does have its problems. I have always been short in stature and light haired so I have never had the responsibility of crossing the threshold. I have to say that considering the weather conditions at midnight in late December the first footer has to endure cold, rain, wind, and often frost and snow so I have never regretted my exclusion from performing this ritual.

A further problem is that as the years slip by it becomes more difficult finding a male member of our little group who has dark hair, – or any hair for that matter.

Derek T.